I hate coffee pods for two main reasons: the taste and the single-serving plastic containers—the latter of which are an awful lot of waste just to make people’s lives marginally more convenient and their souls infinitely more miserable.
Fortunately, someone seems to have solved Keurig’s waste problem with something called CoffeeB, which claims to be the world’s first coffee capsule without the capsule.
Created by Swiss company Delica, CoffeeB aims to completely cut the 100,000-plus tons of waste generated by more than 63 billion coffee pods consumed worldwide every year, according to a 2021 market research study by Euromonitor. That year, the Nespressos and Keurigs of the world grew 18% and made almost $13.5 billion. A whopping 41% of consumers in the U.S. owned a coffee pod machine in 2018.
No wonder manufacturers are projected to sell $29 billion in pods by 2025.
This trend is not exclusive to America’s easy-to-consume, single-serving culture. In Spain, which is as coffee-obsessed as Italy, 7 out of 10 Spaniards use coffee pods, which is terrible, really. Shame on my fellow lazy countrymen.
While easy enough to brew, coffee pods are devastating for the environment—so much so that even the inventor of the Keurig K-Cup regrets creating the system. Despite claims that pods can be sustainable with new biodegradable plastics and recyclable packaging, the fact is that most capsules end up in the landfill, where they experience a 500-year life as toxic trash before they disintegrate.
Roll the ball
So that’s where CoffeeB comes in. “The company started developing a completely waste-free system five years ago,” spokesperson Ladina Moser told me via email.
The goal, she said, was not only to get rid of the capsule waste but to fully protect the aroma and taste of the coffee. She claimed that while other manufacturers are trying to make their pods recyclable, their efforts affect the protection of the aroma. “With CoffeeB that’s no longer the case,” she assured me.
The idea seems rather obvious: Instead of putting the coffee inside a plastic container, CoffeeB produces a small sphere of pressed coffee coated in a protective film using a patented technology. The film is a natural polymer—similar to the digestible coatings found on pills—which the company contends keeps the coffee ball stable and “forms an ideal oxygen barrier that prevents the coffee from losing its flavor.”
The result is a “coffee ball” that is 100% organic and compostable, designed to be used in new CoffeeB machines that, according to the manufacturer, are “largely made of recycled materials and can be repaired at Migros service centers.” Migros is the owner of Delica and Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain (it is also one of the 40 largest retailers in the world).
Moser said that the sustainability objective extends to the coffee itself: “The entire CoffeeB range is either Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade certified. Migros has a long-lasting relationship with their farmers and ensures that they receive support from professional agronomists. Handling resources with care has top priority since this ensures the farmer’s long-term income.”
The coffee itself comes from Peru, and the balls are produced in Birsfelden, Switzerland.
A matter of taste
CoffeeB claims that the company has used an external independent institute to perform taste-test comparisons against a range of single-serve systems. It didn’t disclose the name of this institute or the methodology, but it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, people will taste it for themselves and see how it compares to current pods and other extraction methods.
The machine costs about $180 in France and Switzerland, where it went on sale earlier this month. Each pod goes for about $3.50, which is shocking compared to the 85 cents you’d spend on a Nespresso cup. For that price, it better taste like beans excreted by unicorns, roasted on the spot by rainbow elves, then extracted by Brad Pitt in the role of the world’s best barista while Morgan Freeman narrates the whole process right into your ear.
CoffeeB will expand to Germany this spring, then into additional European markets. As for the U.S.? According to Moser, the brand is “looking for potential partners to launch in the U.S.” but “can’t reveal more details for the time being.”